Weddings are those occasions where a couple, their friends and both families come together to eat, drink, dance, catch up with relatives they haven’t seen in ages and aren’t interested in seeing after the ceremony, take numerous pictures that some of them won’t bother to collect from the commercial photographers and cart away souvenirs, even if they have to lie or fight for it. As a bride or groom, you expect your wedding to be an event of utopian flawlessness.
Yes, weddings are supposed to be pure perfection, with not a thing out of place.
That is, unless all the water pots and raffia mats in your village are after you. Or someone in that same village is using your picture as a hand-fan. Or worse still, imagine a situation where everyone in the village is sitting at the village square, chewing on long chewing sticks, kola nuts and alligator pepper, all using pictures of you as hand-fans. In that case my brother, my sister, your own has finished.
Remember when I said that it appears we’d passed on compound troubles to our neighbours? I think the neighbours on our left must have gotten a double portion. The spectacle that played out there today is the kind that will go down in the chronicles of this street’s history. It involved . . . In fact, let me start the story from the beginning.
It is rare for me to feel that I’m ready for a test. It doesn’t matter how many hours I spend poring over my lesson notes and texts. When the time comes to take them, I often feel as unready as someone who’s never gone for a single lecture. Each time, the results tell me I had no reason to be afraid. But when the next one approaches, I fear nonetheless.
The worst kind of tests is the impromptu open-text quiz, where the lecturer would come into the class, announce it, and ask everyone to bring out their copy of the main textbook for that course. Then he’d put up two tough questions on the whiteboard and give the class an hour to give answers. You’d be happy, rejoicing that you only need to open the text and find the answers.
Those quizzes were big scams, I tell you. You’d comb the required text from cover to cover and not find the answer to those two questions. Each time you raised your head to reread the questions, wondering if you’d missed something on the first and second reading, your eyes would see the lecturer strolling around the class or seated at a table in front, a barely perceptible evil grin playing around the corners of on his or her lips. Frustrated, you’d scribble nonsense from your general understanding of those questions and then submit it. After the quiz was over, the wicked lecturer would open to some obscure commentary in the text or a page just before the index, and point to the answers to his questions, boldly printed.
We stopped having such quizzes after our first year. At least that was what I thought until yesterday, when the course representative for International Law informed the class that the lecturer would be administering an open-book quiz on Monday. I don’t need to tell you how ticked off I was, angry with the extra workload I had to tack on to my already full itinerary. I went through the back pages first, before proceeding to the middle pages. I sat at the table in my room, and as I turned each page, I rued the day I’d decided to study law. Why hadn’t I just done Mass Communications or International Relations? I diligently sloughed through each chapter, hoping that I’d remember what was where, so I’d at least know which topic a question was likely to come from and where to find it in the book.
Imagine my utter annoyance and frustration, when I heard music coming on and off from the next compound. It began with that erratic tinkering and tuning of a microphone.
“Testing…one…two. Testing…testing…one…two…” a man said into a mike.
In the background, fingers plucked at the strings of an electric bass guitar. I winced from the high-pitched whine emitted by the speaker. Men shouted to one another and the clattering of pots and the sounds of women cooking was quite audible.
A party was about to start, it seemed. There was no way I was going to understand anything in those books, with all that racket going on.
I briefly considered going to Amarachi’s house, but I dismissed the thought as soon as it occurred. Three weeks had gone by since that conversation with Chiemena. Every so often, we talked on the phone, skirting the issue, transcending into an awkward, pending friendship. It was hard to stay away from him, and it was equally difficult to say the words I knew I wanted to say. They’d get stuck in my throat each time I tried to mouth them. I even began to think that it’d be nice to make a grand affair of it. Maybe a dinner at some place nice that I could afford. It would’ve been more comfortable to speak my mind at home, but merely thinking of it was dangerous. With the way my hormones and emotions were careening all over the place, sooner, rather than later, I’d find myself in trouble.
I took a break and went and sat in front of my room. Upon inquiring from one of the children, I was told that “auntie Celestina in dem Onyekachi’s compound is doing wedding today and tomorrow, that’s why they’re playing songs.” I nodded in comprehension and debated whether it wouldn’t be wiser to spend the rest of the evening at church, attending the bible study I’d earlier on chosen to skip.
I made up my mind and went to church. The Bible study was very interesting. We discussed faith and obstinacy – when one transcended from the former to the later. I got back home by 7:43 pm. Music was still coming from the wedding party next-door, but lower in volume than when I’d left. I made a plate of noodles and sat at the table. Thankfully, the lights were back on after a four-day blackout. As I read, I marked certain lines and paragraphs with a green-ink Highlighter Pen, a habit my father thoroughly abhors. He thinks books are sacred, and I believe the opposite, particularly if they aren’t romance novels or thrillers. Six times, I read a line on trans-boundary and inland waterway laws. It wasn’t until my forehead acquainted itself with the edge of the table that I realized I’d dozed off. Putting down the plate of half-eaten noodles, I promptly collapsed on the mattress.
Knuckles rapped three times on the door, in quick succession. There was a pause followed by three more knocks.
“Sister Idara? Sister Ti abo yak udoko kemmo adaya, eti mkpo asuk ubuyo,” someone said urgently.
I groaned with irritation, rolling my eyes at the message. The courier was Ubon, Ti-Abasi’s younger brother who was on a break from boarding school. The message from his sister was cryptic: While you sleep, a good thing is passing you by.
I hadn’t the foggiest idea what she meant.
As the first act of my morning routine, I was seated on the white throne in the tiny bathroom, eyes still clogged with sleep, doing my business. I really didn’t appreciate the interruption of such an essential activity. Instead of leisurely taking my time, I had to go open the door.
I sighed in annoyed resignation and unbolted the door. “Ayenuka akpese mana adaya etok, akpafon. If your sister slept a little longer, it’d be wonderful. For her and everyone in this compound,” I said in reply to his greeting.
He grinned in understanding and repeated the message.
“Where is she?”I asked, eager to get back in bed and remain there a good while longer.
“Aba ke compound mme Onyekachi,” he replied.
Why wasn’t that news? Early Saturday morning and she’s already in another compound. Doing what, I can only imagine.
“Sister, abo yak adi idagha ado,” he said, pre-empting my next question. I was to go over ASAP. Before I could ask him what was happening there, he took off like a pistol, eager to get back to whatever he’d been doing.
“Da, we’ll sleep enough when we get to Heaven.”
Those were Ti’s first words, the answer to my unspoken protest, as I shuffled to where she stood just inside the gate. Unlike our compound, this one has a large open area in front of the building, which is a two-storied structure affair. I espied the two canopies that had been set up, the white chairs stacked under them and the sizeable number of people milling around. Twelve, maybe more.
“Ti, why did you bring me here?” I pouted in exasperation. Sometimes, accompanying her on these gossip jaunts made me feel like a kindergartner being led into scrapes by an older classmate.
“Be there talking instead of watching,” she said, rubbernecking so as to see around the man standing in front of her. He wore a worn, dirty, green pair of cargo shorts and a singlet that sported more holes than a sieve. A downward inspection revealed his hand vigorously scratching at his left buttock. The bathroom slippers on his feet were practically level with the ground.
I held my breath, lest the germs being liberated from those shorts got in my nostrils.
“Whatever it is, let’s move to another place,” I said, tugging her arm.
“Now you want to see, eh?” She winked.
“Madam, I don’t even know why I’m here,” I retorted.
At the new spot further in, I could clearly view the courtyard. A tall older gentleman, his bald pate glistening with sweat as the early morning sun shone on it, stood there. There was a dignified air around him, like he was a person of some import. He was glaring at a young man who stood two feet to his left, legs braced apart, defiant. The younger man’s lips were tightly pressed together, his eyes dark, beady pools of roiling emotions. He oscillated between gazing at the ground and the older gentleman. An unpleasant character, I surmised.
“Shhh,” Ti-Abasi silenced me.
I frowned with displeasure.
“You cannot see Celestina,” the old man said to his younger companion.
“Mazi, it is in our best interest that I see her o!” the young man said quite loudly, cocking his head to the right.
“Today is her wedding. She’s not seeing anyone. If you want to see her, ga-aba na ulo uka. I ga-afu ya ebe ahu.”
“Mazi, I don’t want to see her in church. I want to see her now. You people should let me see Tina o. Hehnnnn!” He drew out the last word, like a warning.
“Afam, o gini? Why do you want to see Celestina?” asked a stately, middle-aged lady, who was as tall as the old man beside her. Hands akimbo, she glared at Afam.
“If you people don’t let me see Tina, I will say what I have to say here o,” he declared, pulling his ear for emphasis.
“Ehn, Afam! Oo anyi ka i na-adoro aka na nti? You’re pulling your ear for us? Heu! Uwa mmebi. The young have no respect, cha-cha!”
“Nke ahu gbasara unu. That’s your business. Me, I’ve said my own,” he quipped, turning away from the furious visages of the older couple.
I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. I had a feeling that this wasn’t going to end well.
“Get out of my compound,” Mazi said in a tight voice, pointing his walking stick at the gate. Behind the fury was apparent mortification.
“You go nah,” someone said from the circle of spectators.
“Onye ajo,” said another. “Only God knows what wickedness he wants to use and spoil this girl’s wedding day.”
“Ehen?!” exclaimed Afam. “Okay. Since you want it this way…”
“Puo ebea!” Mazi barked. “Get out!”
“I will talk o –!”
“Get out –!”
“Tell Celestina that she can’t carry my child and dash another man!” Afam shouted.
Audible gasps were exhaled all around, which was then followed by a pin-drop silence.
“Enh? I si gini? What did you just say?” the mother of the bride-to-be said in a low, strangled voice.
“I said, tell Tina that I will not allow her to marry that man when she’s carrying my child,” Afam reiterated.
For a moment, I thought the old man was going to keel over right there. His face went slack and ashy. He wore the expression of someone who’d been suckered in the solar plexus.
“You’re lying. My daughter is not pregnant,” he said, his words lacking in conviction.
“Then let her come out. If she denies it, we’ll confirm it with a pregnancy test,” said Afam.
The old man pursed his lips and sighed. “Mummy, go and call Celestina,” he said to his wife.
“Asi m kporom Celestina,” he said in a sharp, raspy voice.
We all waited with bated breath. Some shuffled their feet, yet not moving. No one wanted to miss out on what would follow. The old man wanted a public declaration by his daughter, perhaps because she’d been publicly accused. It didn’t sound like a good idea.
“Idara, let’s go,” Ti said, pulling my arm.
“Why? Mbok, leave me. The main show is just starting.”
For once, the tables were turned. Ti was the uncomfortable one, while I couldn’t wait to see the end of this fiasco. I ignored her, pretending not to see how she shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. Shebi I was peacefully on my own when she came and called me out.
Celestina’s mother exited the central doorway of the building first, her daughter in tow. She wasn’t a conventional beauty, this Celestina, but there was a touch of prettiness in the square of her jaw, the slash of eyebrows and pixie ears that looked out of place beside such a bold face. White teardrop earrings hung from her earlobes, matching the necklace that encircled her throat and the white hairpins in the mop of Brazilian lace wig curls atop her head.
It was apparent she had no idea what had been going on. Her inquiring gaze took in everything, moving from person to person until they settled on Afam. Her countenance changed, faster than a disgruntled politician could cross from one party to another. Distress. Fear. Sadness. Rage.
Afam met her stare head-on, even smirking for good measure. All that could be said was said without words. One thing was certain; the ensuing humiliation wasn’t going to be a pretty sight.
“I’m leaving,” Ti-Abasi said, already turning around towards the gate.
I thought of staying, but changed my mind and went after her, glancing back now and then to see if anyone had spoken yet. The father was talking to his daughter.
“Why are you leaving?”
“Because that thing not going to end well. Plus, I have more important things to do.”
“And it’s now you realized that?”
“Don’t start,” she said, plowing on ahead of me.
“Wonders shall never cease. Ti-Abasi, running from a real-life Nollywood movie.”
“Whatever,” was her reply.
As I opened the door to my room, it was to hear my phone vibrating. I ran to where it lay on the floor at the head of the mattress. That’s what you do when you don’t have the airtime to return calls. It was Chiemena.
“Hello, Mister Uzodinma,” I teased.
“Hi. Erm…are you at home?”
“Yes. Why?” I asked, surprised at his abrupt greeting.
“I’m at Emily’s restaurant. Do you think you can come?”
“Now?” I asked, even more taken aback. Whenever he or I planned an outing, he always picked me up.
“Yes. I’m waiting with a friend, someone I’d like you to meet.”
“Oh, that’s okay. Give me thirty minutes and I’ll be there.”
“Okay. See you soon.”
I blew through three minutes of bath time, five to put on my clothes and five more for makeup. It was a major feat, considering that loud shouts and wails were coming from next door. From the snatches of words carried by the air, I deduced that Afam had been telling the truth. Before I let myself be consumed by curiosity, I hurried out the door, flagged down a keke and told the driver where I was going.
I arrived at the restaurant and went upstairs to our regular table. Right away, I caught sight of them. The friend had his back to me; the back of his head was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it before. I smiled the moment Chiemena spotted me. Odd, but he gave a curt nod, accompanied by a wan smile and beckoned me forward.
I went over to Chiemena to give him a hug. “Hello, guys.”
Chiemena’s friend raised his head, and as a slow, wicked grin spread across his face, I tell you, I literally felt my heart lurch, and my stomach drop to the floor.
“Hi, sweetheart. I didn’t know you knew this my guy o. Small world.”
I was aware of rather than saw Chiemena’s searching gaze, his eyes probing, taking note of my reaction. But try as I may, I couldn’t erase the astonishment, nor conceal the tremble in the hand I’d laid on his shoulder.
“Won’t you say hello?” the leprechaun said again.
Like a sudden epiphany, I knew what it meant to hate someone. I, Idara-Abasi James Umoh, utterly and irrevocably hated Osahon Ighodalo.
Written by Eketi Ette